The Bengal government’s target of procuring 65 lakh tonnes of paddy directly from the farmers in the Kharif (monsoon) season could hit a roadblock as the state government have not been able to register enough farmers to procure paddy from them even though procurement for the season began on November 1.
“The government had set a target of registering 25 lakh willing farmers ahead of the procurement for the Kharif season that started on November 1. But so far only 9.7 lakh farmers could be registered," said a senior government official.
"Due to the lack of enough registered numbers, it appears that it would be tough to achieve the target of procuring 65 lakh tonnes of paddy,” the official added.
Sources in the food and supplies department said that there were multiple reasons behind the lack of registration of farmers who would then sell their produce to the government and get minimum support price.
First, there were some technical glitches in the portal in which farmers needed to register their names and upload their documents. As a result, several farmers were facing trouble in registering their names on the portal.
Second, officials have become very cautious in verifying the names of documents of the farmers after the recent arrest of former food and supplies minister Jyoti Priyo Mallick by the Enforcement Directorate on charges of irregularities in the procurement and distribution of food grains.
Sources said that because of careful verification this year, it has been found that many documents were missing when the farmers uploaded their names.
For example, it has been found that one particular bank account has been uploaded by multiple farmers or one mobile number has been used by multiple farmers. There have been faulty papers to claim that certain farmers own the land for cultivation.
“All these applications (with dodgy aspects) were not allowed this time. The district authorities have been asked to verify the applications physically. If these farmers can submit proper documents, their names will be uploaded on the portal,” said a source.
Till last year, many of these applications were approved to sell their produce, a bureaucrat said.
But he said the situation now was completely different after raids by the Enforcement Directorate. "No official is ready to take risks," he said.
Earlier, registered rice mills would also take the initiative to register farmers. But this time, the mills did not come forward to assist the state government in procuring paddy by registering farmers, sources said.
“The ED's arrest of rice mill owner Bakibur Rahman has made all rice mill owners shaky. It is hurting the procurement process,” said an official.
The outcome is reflected in the progress of procurement. This year, only 3,696 tonnes of paddy could be procured so far. Last year, the figure was 16,000 tonnes.
“The figure is discouraging for the government as the government has set a much higher procurement target this year. From 45 lakh tonnes last year, the state has increased the target of procurement to 65 lakh tonnes in the kharif season,” said a source.
Tardy procurement can become a headache for the ruling establishment for two reasons.
First, it would not be able to reach out to the maximum number of farmers with MSP for their produce ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the primary reason behind the state government notching up target this year.
Second, it may have to write to the FCI to supply rice to run the state’s cheap grain scheme, an added embarrassment.